Republicans Slam DREAM Act for Including Immigrants With Criminal Records

With the House cruising toward a vote on the DREAM Act as early as Wednesday night and the Senate on Thursday, Republicans are grousing about what they argue is a glaring loophole that allows illegal immigrant criminals to qualify for a green card.

The DREAM Act, a bill heavily backed by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, would give some illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children a pathway to legal status provided they attend college or join the military. Supporters argue it gives immigrants invested in this country a chance at coming out of the shadows, justly letting them off the hook for the decision of their parents to enter the United States illegally. It encourages education and would build the Armed Forces, they say.

But the bill is written more broadly than that, Republicans argue. According to a memo circulated by GOP aides on the Senate Judiciary Committee, there are a host of crimes illegal immigrants would be allowed to commit and still qualify -- assault, domestic violence, sexual abuse, reckless driving and various types of fraud among them.

"Talk about misplaced priorities. In the middle of a deep recession, with taxes about to increase, Democrat leaders in Washington are asking Americans to pick up the tab for a proposal that would offer amnesty to millions -- including those with criminal records," Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Judiciary Committee Republicans, told in a statement.

The list of permissible crimes would depend on the circumstance, but the way the bill is written, it allows a potential applicant to have committed up to two misdemeanors. Specifically, anybody convicted of a federal or state offense carrying a sentence of one year or less, or anybody convicted of up to two offenses with a combined sentence of under 90 days, could be eligible.

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Republicans are questioning why the legislation would allow such a criminal background, when a misdemeanor can be more than just some childhood shoplifting. With these objections in mind, some of the bill's top opponents are aiming to put up a united front against it. Both the House and Senate are expected to take the bill up late Wednesday afternoon. The bill faces presumably tougher prospects in the Senate, where Republicans have pledged to oppose any non-spending, non-tax cut measures until an extension of the Bush tax cuts is passed.

But Democrats have steadily built the case for the proposal, with the Obama administration releasing a de facto endorsement Wednesday morning.

"Young people who have spent much of their lives in the United States and want to improve their lives and their nation by pursuing higher education or defending the United States as members of the Armed Forces should be given this opportunity to earn legal status," the White House said.

The administration has put out top officials from the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere in recent days to tout the proposed policy, while Hispanic advocacy groups that have long supported the package are rallying people behind it.

"Against all odds, these young men and women fought for a place ... they finished high school, and they said 'we want to do more'," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

Regarding Republican complaints, a Durbin aide told that nobody with a felony on his or her record would be eligible under the DREAM Act.

"No serious crimes would be allowed," the aide said. "Misdemeanor crimes are all minor crimes by definition. ... Murderers are not going to be eligible under the DREAM Act."

Under the bill, applicants must have arrived in the United States before they were 16 and must have lived continuously in the country for five years or more. If they are granted conditional status, they would have to wait at least 10 years to become permanent legal residents.

But Republicans warn that the policy could strain the immigration system, reward bad behavior and ultimately give "amnesty" to up to 2 million undocumented residents.

"The bill subsidizes education for illegal immigrants, grants them amnesty, encourages more illegal immigration and inevitably takes jobs from American workers. In short, the DREAM Act is a nightmare for the American people," Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said in a written statement Wednesday. "American voters want to see our immigration laws enforced, not ignored."